Protecting the Islands from Environmental Disasters

We can not prevent hurricanes any more than we can fool Mother Nature, but we can anticipate their enormous force. And though environmental damage is inevitable from a large storm, we can minimize the man-made environmental disasters that often follow.

Natural Disasters

Tropical storms and hurricanes naturally sweep the Pacific Ocean, generating high winds, huge swells, and heavy rainfall. They also carry the potential for severe environmental damage when they encounter land. When Hurricane Iniki ripped across Kaua’i in 1992, the destruction included massive beach erosion and v egetation damage. Trees, shrubs, and ferns were broken and stripped of leaves, native forest enclaves were destroyed, and ridges were scoured to bare rock. Beaches are particularly vulnerable. Waves and heavy rain can quickly erode the sand, and storm surges can cause coastal overwash or penetrate inland. Some beaches may be totally stripped of their sand, leaving rock outcrops exposed. The sand that disappears may move inland of offshore. Coral reefs, normally protecting beaches by acting as natural breakwaters, may be damaged, resulting in beach erosion for years after a hurricane. A wide beach is the best protection against hurricane-generated waves and storm surges. Measures that help to protect beach or dune areas, such as erecting new buildings back from the wave impact zone, conserving natural beach and dune vegetation, and preventing the mining of beach sand, will help to preserve the beach as a natural storm barrier. After a hurricane, beaches should be given time to recover naturally. Walls or other hard structures should not be constructed, as they may actually impede beach recovery. Sand that has washed onto beachfront property should not be sold or removed, but should be returned to the beach to aid its process of regeneration.

Man-made Disasters “Waiting to Happen”

The natural force of a hurricane has the potential to trigger an enormous man-made crisis in urban and industrial areas. Enforcing strong environmental regulations and planning/development codes before a disaster strikes is our best defense against the contamination of water, the release of oil, gas, sewage, and toxic chemicals, and the spread of disease. While stopping a hurricane in its tracks is impossible, we can protect our Islands from becoming, like the Gulf Coast, a man-made disaster waiting to happen.